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Listening to art.
Playing with audio.
Sounding out technology.
Composing in code.

tag: gadget

Playing with Fire (Alarms)

A sound art project in 9 volts by Jeff Kolar


Few of us ever really take or have the time to consider the sonic nuances of a smoke alarm. We’re either too busy exiting the building or, more often, yanking the 9V battery when the boiling pasta has set the thing off. But characteristically curious Jeff Kolar has lowered the everyday gadget’s volume and applied to it his sonic microscope, yielding five tracks of high-pitched tones heard from various perspectives. The tracks are labeled with successive narrative aspects: “Ignition,” “Flame,” “Growth,” “Fully Developed,” and “Decay.”

There may be no sound more capable of getting someone’s attention than a smoke alarm, except perhaps for a crying baby. But in Kolar’s hands they are less piercing than insinuating. The shrill, sharp noises warp and layer and bend, each sequence suggesting itself as nanotech minimalism, from the bright chirp with which “Fully Developed” opens, to the ticking drone of “Flame,” to the tea-kettle anxiety of “Decay”. The effort is a work of audio forensics. In time, you come to understand the functional sonic components of the classic alarm, perhaps to even reflect a bit on this blissfully mundane aspect of life or death situations. It’s almost enough to make you linger the next time a smoke alarm goes off — but please exit the building before making sound art about it.


Tracks originally posted at The piece was part of the glitChicago exhibit that ran during August and September of 2014, and was produced by Kolar during his residency at ACRE. More on the project at Smoke Detector CD, complete with its great “As Seen on TV” cover, via Twitter image via

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The Sound of Achieving the Third Dimension

A proto-domestic proto-soundscape document by qDot

We purchased and installed a new dishwasher recently. It is so quiet that it requires a little red light to be displayed on the floor to confirm that it’s even running. When the machine is on rinse cycle, there is enough sound that one is aware of the motion, of the water, but still it sounds more like your neighbor is running a machine, several walls away, than you yourself are. When the little bell rings to announce that the full cleaning cycle is over, you would be forgiven for having forgotten it was running in the first place. If the previous dishwasher sounded like a stem from an Einstürzende Neubauten remix project, all clangy industrial noise, this new machine sounds like an alarm clock set to play a rainforest storm.

In contrast, our car is a pre-electric, pre-hybrid thing — the appropriate retronym escapes me — and it’s not so loud as the friend’s ancient Volkswagen we used to drive to the city in my relative youth, but neither is it as quiet as its 21st-century vehicular brethren.

What this audio track presents is 30 seconds of a 3D printer, perhaps the epitome of 21st-century proto-domestic appliances, doing its magic. It was recorded by qDot, aka Kyle Machulis, of the San Francisco Bay area, during (I believe) his recent stint as an artist in residence at Autodesk. The sound is nothing anyone wants in their kitchen or garage, necessarily, but convenience can trump all manner of other concerns, from privacy to comfort. One is left to wonder if this sound will become as common to a household as that of the microwave and toilet, or if several more generations of iterative improvement will pass and transformations transpire before the technology is welcome in homes.

Track originally posted at More on Machulis at his site.

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First New Marcus Fischer Track of the Year

A simple loop, worthy of looping


The first sound uploaded this new year by Marcus Fischer is a tape loop experiment, the source material for which is just a metallophone and bells. The slow layering, the loose tape effects, like the brief slurring of recorded sound, and the evident crackle from seams and errant noises collectively make for an endlessly loopable listening experience: a loop intended to be looped. The track is accompanied by a photo of the employed tools, evidence of just how helpful such information can be in the appreciation of a recording. Note in particular how the length of the loop is accomplished by extending it beyond the recording device’s dimensions thanks to a pair of drinking glasses and what appear to be candles.

Track originally posted at and More from Fischer, who is based in Portland, Oregon, at

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Building a “Robot Friend”

From computers, keyboards, phones, printers, fax machines ...

“Robot Friend” opens like an early-Internet take on Pink Floyd’s “Money”: the beat is made of known, non-musical content. In place of the cash register, though, there is, foremost, the halcyon squelch of an ISP/fax handshake. According to the track’s composer/performer, Johnny Ripper, “everything in this song is made from recordings of electronic tools – computers, keyboards, phones, printers, fax machines, televisions, disk drives etc.” The result is a slow yet toe-tapping pleasure, one whose familiar verse/chorus near-monotony gains purpose thanks to its basis in everyday mechanisms.

Track originally posted for free download at More from Johnny Ripper, who’s based in Montréal, Canada, at

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SOUND RESEARCH LOG: On Gyrosurveillance

That fly on the wall could be the vibration of your cellphone:

“In the age of surveillance paranoia, most smartphone users know better than to give a random app or website permission to use their device’s microphone. But researchers have found there’s another, little-considered sensor in modern phones that can also listen in on their conversations. And it doesn’t even need to ask.”

From an article by Andy Greenberg at

This entry cross-posted from the Disquiet linkblog project

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